Pixar movies have this magical quality to them. They somehow manage to present themselves in our lives at just the right time – it’s amazing how current and relevant they reliably are despite being in production for years beforehand. Soul is no exception. In fact, it might be the most ‘timely’ Pixar movie yet. (Ironic, given the fact that it’s been delayed multiple times due to COVID-19).
This is an important point to make, though: the one way that Soul is not ‘timely’ is that it’s the first Pixar movie to feature a Black protagonist at the centre of its story. This didn’t come at the ‘perfect time’. This was long overdue.
In every other regard, though, Soul has arrived exactly on time. It’s a top tier Pixar movie for a multitude of reasons, but most powerfully because of how hard it hits in the year 2020.
First off – the look and sound of Soul is…full of soul, unsurprisingly.
At this point, you’d think we would have stopped being surprised by how beautiful Pixar movies continue to be. But you will absolutely gasp at so many scenes in Soul, at how much of a marvel they are. And not in a “wow I can’t believe how real this looks” way – there are parts of Soul that have unreal beauty. This movie shows you places that you would never see outside of your wildest imagination – ‘The Great Before’, and astral planes – but it also shows you places that are immediately familiar and recognisable. The streets of New York City feel so authentic – they’re realised with such a sense of joy and vibrancy. And the diversity of character designs is such a delight.
This mastery of recreating the real world and creating new worlds from scratch was vital in bringing Soul’s story to life. Joe Gardner, an aspiring jazz pianist, is suddenly plunged into the afterlife on the very day his dream career seemed to finally be coming together. Feeling that his life was only just starting, he needs to fight his way back to Earth and avoid having to move on into ‘The Great Beyond’.
As with Pixar’s 2017 film Coco, music plays a huge role in the plot and themes of Soul, so it’s appropriate that it’s been treated and represented so passionately. Coco’s guitar playing sequences are breath-taking – the way the animation captured the intricate fingering is incredible. Soul achieved this impressive feat again and more. Joe’s piano-playing sequences feel so raw and wonderfully observed. Dorothea Williams playing the saxophone is mesmerising.
The soundtrack is also fittingly soulful – a magical mix of Jon Batiste’s jazz and Reznor and Ross’ otherworldly modern tracks.
Soul – the best thing to come out of the year 2020?
Soul gives us an imaginative insight into what happens when we die, but it is a film about life. It’s strangely ironic that a film that so confidently celebrates life has had to face so many delays due to the year 2020. The pandemic has forced people to ‘put their lives on hold’ until we can get back to actually living and ‘fulfilling our purposes’ again. But this is why I feel Soul couldn’t have come about at a better time. When I say that Soul is a movie about life, I mean life in its simplest essence. It’s not about life’s complexity, or its milestones or hurdles. Soul celebrates just…living. Watching the sky. Going for walks. Feeling the wind on your face. In a year where so much has been stripped away from us, it’s so wonderful that Soul has reminded us to find joy in the little things.
Soul comes to Disney+ on December 25th. Whether you’re with family or friends, physically or virtually, or even on your own – I hope Soul brings a smile to your face this Christmas. It’s a bold reminder of how much we have to look forward to, and how much we can appreciate in the present.